Recently, New Jersey’s Rep. Chris Smith (R-Dist. 4) introduced the “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act,” with the intent to empower U.S. leadership in the fight against anti-Semitism abroad. This is undoubtedly a worthy cause which garnered bipartisan support.
Digging a bit deeper, the provisions of the bill are centered around changes that will empower the State Department’s special envoy, including elevating the position to the rank of ambassador who reports directly to the secretary of state.
There’s one problem though: The Trump administration is aggressively eliminating special envoy positions from the State Department, and the role of monitoring and combatting anti-Semitism hangs in the balance.
Smith, who created the special envoy position in 2004, is well aware of this, as he is one of the leaders of the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism. In March, he released a statement committing to protect the safety and security of the Jewish community, and in April Smith, along with 166 House members, wrote a letter to the Trump administration stressing the importance of the vacant office.
However, despite the bipartisan outcry, the White House remains defiant. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended the vacancy and suggested that the special envoy position worsens anti-Semitism. During testimony to the Senate in June, Tillerson stated, “By having a special person, an envoy out here, one of my experiences is, [a] mission then says, ‘Oh, we’ve got somebody else that does that,’ and then they stop doing it.”
President Donald Trump has remained mostly silent on the issue. In response to criticism of the vacancies in his administration, he tweeted, “We are not looking to fill all of those positions. Don’t need many of them — reduce size of government.”
Confusingly, this tweet came on the same day Tillerson announced that the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism will be retained. This directly conflicts with Trump’s statement. Regardless, no timeline was set and the future of the role remains unclear.
Instead of focusing his efforts on expanding this symbolic international role that may or may not be filled, it would be more beneficial to Smith’s constituents to focus on the growing hate in our backyard.
New Jersey has 15 active hate groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and anti-Semitic violence, vandalism, and harassment are on the rise. Unfortunately, while his attention has remained on the issue abroad, Smith has offered little aid to his personal constituency during his 36-year tenure in the House.
Smith, who has benefited from decades of support from District 4’s Jewish community, has been silent on the domestic rise of neo-Nazi and white supremacist activity. Recently, in Asbury Park, hate groups brazenly posted anti-Semitic fliers, and in Lakewood they vandalized a Holocaust memorial with a neo-Nazi message.
In response, the Anti-Defamation League called for a “full-throated condemnation” from elected officials. None was forthcoming from Smith.
In the aftermath of the Charlottesville rally in August, Smith released a tepid statement: “The violence triggered by the deplorable white nationalist rally is outrageous. We must recommit to peace, reconciliation, and nonviolence.” It’s notable that Smith is condemning the violence, not the hateful ideology behind it. Further, committing to “reconciliation” with Nazis is absurd, outrageous, and disqualifying. Though, as usual, Smith took no action that would have given his statement credibility.
His constituents in District 4 are screaming for leadership against anti-Semitism and hate of all kinds, and have held several rallies against the scourge. Even as Congress was in the middle of a month-long August recess, Smith was noticeably absent.
It is clear the district needs a leader who will strongly condemn and act against anti-Semitism and hatred of any kind, and it’s time we demand more from our representation than disingenuous statements and smoke-and-mirrors legislation.
This letter also appeared in New Jersey Jewish News.